Christian Ashram Movement

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The Christian Ashram Movement (not to be confused with the United Christian Ashram movement) is a movement within Christianity in India that embraces Vedanta and the teachings of the East, attempting to combine the Christian faith with the Hindu ashram model and Christian monasticism with the Hindu sannyasa tradition.

Origin and spread

The "father" of the Christian Ashram movement was Italian Jesuit Roberto de Nobili, a Christian missionary to India who decided to overcome the cultural obstacles to his mission by adopting the various forms of a Hindu sannyāsi.[1][2] He was followed in this by Brahmabandhab Upadhyay, who was not a missionary but an Indian Brahmin who converted to Catholicism. His writing publicized several ideas in the movement, including the identification of the Saccidananda with the Christian Holy Trinity,[3][2] an identification coined by Keshub Chandra Sen in 1882.[4] He also founded an ashram Kasthalic Matha, although it didn't last long.[3][2]

Following Upadhyay and Sen came French priest Jules Monchanin (who was later to adopt the name Parma Arupi Anananda), and French Benedictine monk Henri le Saux (who was later to adopt the name Abhishiktananda), the co-founders of Saccidananda Ashram (also called Shantivanam) an ashram founded in 1938 at Tannirpalli in Tiruchirapalli District and still surviving into the 21st century.[3][2] Upadhyay was also an influence upon Bede Griffiths.,[3] who co-founded Kurisumala Ashram with Francis Mahieu and who took over leadership of Saccidananda Ashram after Monchanin's death and le Saux's decision to leave for his hermitage.[5]

Many other Christian ashrams now exist in India. By 2004, there were at least 50 of them, including: Sacciananda Ashram (aforementioned), Kurisumala Ashram (aforementioned), Christukula Ashram (located in Tirupattur and also founded by Ernest Forrester Paton and S. Jesudasan, but by Anglicans rather than Roman Catholics, in the 1930s), Christa Prema Seva Ashram (located in Shivajinagar and founded in 1927 by Anglican John "Jack" Winslow), Jyotiniketan Ashram (in Bareilly), and Christi Panti Ashram (in Varanasi).[6][7][8] Other ashrams founded by the movement include Sat Tal Ashram (founded by Methodist E. Stanley Jones) and Nava Jeeva Ashram, Founded by Pradhan Acharya John Thannickal in Bangalore.[7][9]

Whilst Sacciananda and others were founded by Catholics, with some 80 Catholic ashrams existing by 2005, Christa Prema Seva and Christukula were the first two of the (surviving) Protestant ashrams.[2][9] The Catholic ashrams have proven more successful than the Protestant. In addition to their greater number, the continuance of Saccidananda Ashram under Bede Griffiths contrasts strikingly with the problems that Protestant ashrams have had under second-generation leadership, as exemplified by the faltering of Christa Prema Seva Ashram (and indeed by the Protestant ashram founded in 1917 by N. V. Tilak at Satra, possibly the very first Protestant ashram, which collapsed upon his death in 1919). Stanley Samartha reported in 1980 that the movement had "almost dried up".[10][11]


The movement has not been without interreligious friction. Although there was dialogue between Hinduism and Christianity in general in the 1960s, this broke down as few were willing to engage in common meditation or social work practice.[8] The Christian Ashram Movement, specifically, came under attack from some factions of Hinduism, as can be witnessed from a series of letters exchanged between Bede Griffiths and Swami Devananda — more on which can be found in Catholic Ashrams (Goel 1988).[12] Such criticism from (some) Hindus has been severe; but criticism has also been levelled from the Christian side, where conservative groups within the Catholic Church have regarded the Hindu influences upon Christian ashrams with some suspicion. The view of Indians as a whole appears to be that the Christian ashram movement is mainly "for foreigners"; however the view remains that the movement, at least the Catholic side, will continue in existence and provide (in the words of one commentator quoted by George Soares-Prahbu in 1994) "an important point of contact for dialogue with Hinduism".[13]

Griffiths hoped to restore Christianity to what he considered its roots where meditation and direct experience of God was emphasized, as with the Desert Fathers. Proponents consider this spiritual wisdom to be found in the New Testament, but believe that has been de-emphasised throughout much of Christian history.[citation needed]

While never losing sight of the fact that Jesus is the way to salvation, in the movement the idea (from the New Testament) that "the Kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:21) is married to the Hindu concept of the atman. By allying Christianity with mysticism, the movement seeks to ground faith in direct experience and wisdom arising from the mystical experience of nonduality and thus allow Christianity to return to being a more inwardly-directed religion.[citation needed]

The Second Vatican Council, in its Declaration on Non-Christian Religions, said that "the Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions".[14] In Christian sannyasa, Hindu holy texts such as the Mahabharata and the Puranas are considered to be gifts from God.[citation needed] Brother John Martin Sahajananda summarizes this Roman Catholic teaching as, "All the sacred scriptures are a gift of God to humanity.".[15]


  1. Trapnell 2001, p. 219.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Coward & Goa 2004, p. 87.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Trapnell 2001, p. 220.
  4. Collins 2007, p. 83–84.
  5. Coward & Goa 2004, p. 87–88.
  6. Oldmeadow 2004, p. 234–235.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Bryant 2003, p. 60.
  8. 8.0 8.1 von Brück & Rajashekar 1999, p. 551.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Melton 2005, p. 50.
  10. Robinson 2004, p. 56.
  11. Collins 2007, p. 79.
  12. Oldmeadow 2004, p. 235.
  13. Robinson 2004, p. 56–57.
  14. Elnes 2004.
  15. Sahajananda 2009.

Sources used

  • von Brück, Michael; Rajashekar, J. Paul (1999). "Hinduism and Christianity". In Fahlbusch, Erwin; Bromiley, Geoffrey William (eds.). The encyclopedia of Christianity. 2. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. ISBN 978-90-04-11695-5.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Bryant, M. Darrol (2003). "ashrams". In Christensen, Karen; Levinson, David (eds.). Encyclopedia of community: from the village to the virtual world. 1 (2nd ed.). SAGE. ISBN 978-0-7619-2598-9.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Collins, Paul M. (2007). Christian inculturation in India. Liturgy, worship, and society. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. ISBN 978-0-7546-6076-7.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Coward, Harold G.; Goa, David J. (2004). Mantra: hearing the divine in India and America (2nd ed.). Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-12961-9.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Elnes, Eric (2004). "June 25–27, Days 53–55: Shantivanam Ashram". Eric's Sabbatical Journal. Scottsdale Congregational United Church of Christ.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Melton, J. Gordon, ed. (2005). "ashrams, Christian". Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Infobase Publishing. ISBN 978-0-8160-5456-5.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Oldmeadow, Harry (2004). Journeys East: 20th century Western encounters with Eastern religious traditions. The library of perennial philosophy. World Wisdom, Inc. ISBN 978-0-941532-57-0.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Robinson, Bob (2004). "Ashrams and Interreligious centres". Christians meeting Hindus: an analysis and theological critique of the Hindu-Christian encounter in India. OCMS. ISBN 978-1-870345-39-2.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Sahajananda, John Martin (January 2009). "Guidelines for Interreligious Dialogue". Monastic Interreligious Dialogue (Bulletin 82).CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Trapnell, Judson B. (2001). Bede Griffiths: a life in dialogue. SUNY series in religious studies. SUNY Press. ISBN 978-0-7914-4871-7.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • Goel, Sita Ram (1988). Catholic Ashrams: Adopting and Adapting Hindu Dharma. New Delhi: Voice of India.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Teasdale, Wayne (2003). Bede Griffiths: an introduction to his interspiritual thought. SkyLight Paths Publishing. ISBN 978-1-893361-77-5.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Valiamangalam, J. (2003). "Indian Christian Spirituality; The Christian Ashram Movement". In Sundararajan, K. R.; Mukerji, Bithika (eds.). Hindu spirituality: Postclassical and modern. 2. Motilal Banarsidass Publ. pp. 520–523. ISBN 978-81-208-1937-5.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Cornille, Catherine (1992). The Guru in Indian Catholicism: Ambiguity Or Opportunity of Inculturation. Louvain Theological and Pastoral Monographs. 6. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. ISBN 978-0-8028-0566-9.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Ralston, Helen (1987). Christian ashrams: a new religious movement in contemporary India. Studies in religion and society. 20. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press. ISBN 978-0-88946-854-2.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Mataji, Vandana, ed. (1993). Christian ashrams: a movement with a future?. Indian Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. ISBN 978-81-7214-130-1.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>